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What is Antivirus Software? The 3 Types You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: May 2023

What is Antivirus Software? The 3 Types of Antivirus You Need to Know

Antivirus Software

Are you worried about your digital safety? Don’t let malware ruin your day. Discover the different types of antivirus software and keep your device safe and secure.

This article will explore what antivirus software is, how it works, and the different types available. We will also provide tips for choosing the best antivirus software and examples of top-rated programs.


  • Antivirus software protects your devices from malware and other cyber threats, like hackers. Through additional features, like a VPN, it can also protect your privacy and identity online.
  • The best antivirus software is Norton. With a 100% anti-malware score and an unlimited VPN, it’s unrivaled by any of its competitors.
  • There are three types of antivirus based on their detection method: signature-based, behavior-based, and machine learning. But you can also divide them according to the devices they protect.
  • To choose the right antivirus software, consider compatibility with your devices, protection against malware, performance impact, false positives, and features like a firewall, password manager, and VPN.

Don’t become a victim of phishing. Protect your PC with the antivirus software for Windows and your privacy with the best VPN service.

What is antivirus software?

Antivirus software is a program that protects your PC, Mac, tablet, or phone from malware threats. These cyber threats can come in many forms, such as adware, spyware, viruses, and more. As they can damage your device or steal information from it, it is essential to delete them from your device.

Antivirus software protects your device by scanning for and detecting malware threats. Once a threat is detected, the antivirus software will remove or isolate it. Early action is essential because malware is designed to spread to other devices or infect deeper parts of your system.

Next to on-demand scans, most modern antivirus programs also offer real-time protection. This means they will continuously scan your device for threats and block them as they arise.

Types of antivirus software

There are many ways to divide antivirus software types. One option is to divide them according to the methods they use to identify and remove malware infections, as we’ll see below.

However, most top-rated antivirus software, like Norton and Bitdefender, use all three methods to keep your devices safe. Through the combination of these protection technologies, the most capable security solutions exist.

1. Antivirus software using signature-based detection

This method involves comparing the code of a suspicious file to a database of known malware signatures. If a match is found, the antivirus software will flag the file as a threat and take appropriate action, such as deleting or quarantining the file.

This method is fast and effective but unable to discover new malware threats. After all, it relies on a database of known malware signatures. So by design, it cannot identify malware threats that haven’t been encountered before.

2. Antivirus software using behavior-based detection

This method picks up where signature-based detection leaves off. By analyzing the behavior of a file rather than its code, it can discover new malware threats that haven’t been seen before. For example, if a program begins making numerous network connections or modifying system settings without your knowledge, it may be flagged as a threat.

This method is also called system monitoring (and sometimes heuristic detection, even though they are slightly different). Although the behavioral approach is great a spotting new malware, it is also prone to false positives, which means mistaking harmless files for malware. On top of that, it tends to be slower than signature-based detection.

3. Antivirus software using machine learning

The latest evolution in antivirus software involves machine learning. It applies algorithms and huge datasets to detect malicious patterns and identify malware. With enough computing power, it can be a very effective tool for monitoring both individual devices and large networks.

However, as algorithms are often created or improved by the Artificial Intelligence (AI), it can be a black box to humans. This means that it can be difficult for human engineers to understand how the algorithm reaches its conclusions. On top of that, when trained on an imperfect data set, the algorithm might come to the wrong conclusion on what is a safe or unsafe.

Types of antivirus software based on the operating system

Antivirus software can also be divided according to the operating system it is designed to protect. For example, there are antivirus programs specifically designed for Windows, Mac, and Android (but not for iOS). For instance, Intego is a famous antivirus program exclusively designed for macOS.

Choosing antivirus software compatible with your device’s operating system is essential, as using an incompatible program may cause problems or reduce the effectiveness of the antivirus software. Our preferred antivirus program, Norton, is very capable at protecting all major operating systems.

How to choose antivirus software?

There are many factors to consider when choosing antivirus software for your device. One important factor is compatibility with your operating systems. It is also essential to select a program that provides strong protection against known malware threats, and has a good track record in detecting and blocking unknown threats.

Performance impact is another important consideration. Some antivirus programs may slow down your device or consume many system resources, which can be frustrating. Therefore, choosing a program that balances solid protection and minimal impact on performance is crucial.

Another factor to consider is the prevalence of false positives, which are instances where the antivirus software incorrectly identifies a benign file as a threat. This can be frustrating and may result in losing important files or data. Therefore, choosing a program with a low rate of false positives is vital.

It is also essential to consider the reputation and privacy policy of the antivirus software company. Choose a company with a good reputation for protecting customer data and respecting privacy.

The prime example is Avast which tracked and sold the browsing habits of millions of its users. It collected this data via its Online Security browser extension and sold it via its subsidiary, Jumpshot. Although it claims to have stopped these activities and has been sold to Norton, the reputation lingers.

Cost is an important factor to consider as well. The more security features beyond anti-malware you want, the more expensive the product becomes. Only you can decide where the perfect compromise between price and protection lies. The following are the core features to consider:

Firewall: A firewall is a security system that monitors and controls the incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules. A firewall can be hardware-based, software-based, or a combination of both. Its primary purpose is to keep unauthorized users and malicious software out of a private network while allowing authorized users and legitimate traffic to pass through.

Password manager: A password manager is a software tool that helps users securely store and manage their login credentials for various online accounts. It generates strong, unique passwords for each account and stores them in a secure, encrypted format. This helps users avoid using weak or reused passwords, which can easily be guessed or hacked.

Virtual private network (VPN): A VPN is a network technology that creates a secure, encrypted connection over a public network (such as the internet). It allows users to transmit data as if their devices were directly connected to a private network, even if they are physically located elsewhere. VPNs are often used to protect online privacy and anonymity, as well as bypass censorship and geo-restrictions.

Parental controls: Parental controls allow parents or guardians to limit their children’s Internet usage and access to certain content. They can block inappropriate websites and apps, set time limits on device usage, and monitor online activity. Parental controls can help protect children from online dangers such as cyberbullying, predatory behavior, and exposure to inappropriate content.

Identity theft protection: Identity theft protection is a service that helps users monitor and protect their personal information from being used for fraudulent purposes. It typically includes credit monitoring, alert notifications, and recovery assistance. In addition, identity theft protection can help users detect and prevent unauthorized use of their personal information, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers.

Secure cloud storage (cloud backup): Cloud backup is a service that allows users to store copies of their data on a remote server (the “cloud“) to protect it from local disasters, hardware failures, or data loss. Cloud backup can be configured to automatically save new or changed files regularly, making it a convenient and reliable way to ensure data is always backed up and available for recovery.

Anti-phishing: Anti-phishing is a security feature that helps users identify and protect themselves against fraudulent websites or emails designed to steal sensitive information (such as login credentials or financial information). It can be implemented as a software tool that analyzes websites and emails for known phishing indicators, or as an education program that teaches users how to recognize and avoid phishing attacks.

Anti-ransomware: Anti-ransomware is a security feature that helps users protect their devices and data from ransomware attacks. Ransomware is a type of malicious code that encrypts a user’s files and demands payment (the “ransom”) in exchange for the decryption key. Anti-ransomware can detect and block ransomware attacks in real-time, or provide tools for recovering encrypted data.

Other features you could consider are:

  • Ad Blocker
  • Anti-theft
  • Dark web monitoring (identity protection)
  • Email protection
  • File encryption
  • File shredder
  • Gaming mode
  • Microphone protection
  • PC maintenance features
  • Secure browser (hardened browser to protect your online banking)
  • Spam filter
  • Startup optimizer
  • Tune up tools
  • Virtual keyboard
  • Webcam protection

Examples of excellent antivirus software

There are many antivirus companies available, and it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. Some well-known and trusted antivirus programs include Norton, Bitdefender, Panda, Kaspersky, and McAfee. With the first three being our favorites.

Norton is one of the largest consumer cybersecurity brands in the world. It is a publicly listed company from the United States. It is the only antivirus program with a 100% protection score against malware in every single test by AV-Test since 2016. On top of that, it includes an unlimited VPN for free with its antivirus software. It’s currently both the best antivirus software for Windows and Mac.

Bitdefender is one of its main rivals. The Rumanian company has an exceptional reputation for innovative products providing excellent antivirus protection while having a minimal impact on device performance. On top of that, their antivirus software is affordable too.

Panda is a smaller antivirus provider from Spain. But it’s not all about size. Their test scores in AV-Comparatives are unrivaled by the bigger brands, and many users find Panda’s antivirus for Windows to be one of the most user-friendly.

But why do you need antivirus software?

You need antivirus software to protect your device from a wide range of malware threats. These threats continue to evolve every day, so it is essential to have a good understanding of the various types of malware and how they can affect your devices:

  • Adware: Adware is a type of software that displays unwanted advertisements on your device. It is often bundled with other software and can be difficult to remove.
  • Computer virus: A computer virus is a malware that replicates itself and spreads to other devices. It can cause harm to your device, such as deleting files or corrupting data.
  • Computer worm: A computer worm is a malware that spreads to other devices through networks and the internet. It can replicate itself and consume resources on the infected machine.
  • Keylogger: A keylogger is a type of malware that records the keys you type on your device, including passwords and other sensitive information.
  • Online scam: An online scam is a type of fraud that aims to trick you into giving away personal or financial information. It can take many forms, such as phishing attacks or fake websites.
  • Phishing: Phishing is a type of online scam that involves sending fake emails or text messages that appear to be from legitimate sources, in an attempt to trick you into giving away personal or financial information.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is malware that encrypts your data and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key.
  • Rootkit: A rootkit is a type of malware designed to gain unauthorized access to your device at the root level. It can be challenging to detect and remove.
  • Spyware: Spyware is a type of malware designed to monitor your activities on your device and send the information to a third party.
  • Trojan horse: A trojan horse is a type of malware disguised as a legitimate program. It can give an attacker access to your device when downloaded and opened.


Antivirus software is a vital tool for protecting your device from malware threats. It uses various methods to identify and remove malware, including signature-based detection, behavior-based detection, and machine learning. 

When choosing antivirus software, it is important to consider factors such as compatibility with your device, protection against known and unknown malware, performance impact, the prevalence of false positives, and the range of additional security features offered. It is also essential to consider the reputation and privacy policy of the software company.

There are many types of malware threats, including adware, computer viruses, computer worms, keyloggers, online scams, phishing attacks, ransomware, rootkits, spyware, and Trojan horses. It is important to be aware of these threats and take steps to protect your device from them.

In conclusion, antivirus software is an essential tool for protecting your PC, Mac, and mobile devices from malware and ensuring the security of your personal and sensitive information. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to research and choose the best antivirus software for your needs.



Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you need antivirus software?

Antivirus software is essential for protecting your device from malware threats and ensuring the security of your personal and sensitive information. Without antivirus software, your device is vulnerable to attacks from a range of malware, including viruses, worms, and ransomware.

What antivirus software are best?

We have tested a wide range of antivirus software over the years. We can confidently say that Norton and Bitdefender are currently the best antivirus programs for Windows. Especially Norton, which is the only brand with a 100% anti-malware test score and includes an unlimited VPN for free, is excellent.

Free vs. paid antivirus software?

We don’t advise using free antivirus software. They rarely offer better protection than the built-in tools in Windows (Microsoft Defender or Windows Defender) and macOS (XProtect and GateKeeper). And worse, they are often loaded with ads or bloatware (unwanted and annoying software that will automatically install on your PC). Avoid problems and buy paid antivirus software instead.

How does antivirus software work?

Antivirus software works by scanning the files on your computer for known malware patterns and quarantining or deleting any infected files it finds. It also checks the websites you visit and emails you receive for potential threats and alerts you if it finds any.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.